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The Theo fiasco: a media report card
The last word on the latest Yawkey Way (via Morrissey Boulevard) soap opera

On November 30, 2001, Dan Shaughnessy wrote a sarcastic column when the Boston Globe’s owner, the New York Times Company, looked like a contender to have an ownership stake in the Boston Red Sox. "The more I think about things, the Red Sox are a really swell organization," he joked. "Those Sox sure look like world champs in 2002. This is our year. And I mean ‘our.’ "

About a month later, Globe editor Marty Baron — in an interview with his own paper — made essentially the same point in a much more serious vein, acknowledging that "everything we do will be under a microscope."

From the outset, a lot of people on Morrissey Boulevard knew that the Times Company’s 17 percent share in the partnership that owns the Sox would create headaches — if not worse — for the paper’s journalists. The issue simmered for years, often stoked by the local baseball blogosphere. Three months ago, the Phoenix’s Ian Donnis wrote a prescient piece on the interlocking relationships between the Globe and Sox (see "Inside Baseball," News and Features, July 29) and on October 23, Globe ombudsman Richard Chacon wrote a column asking publisher Richard Gilman and president Richard Daniels to give back the 2004 World Series rings they received from the Sox.

"It now falls on all Globe employees on the news and business sides to be in agreement on the values and actions required to protect the paper’s credibility," Chacon asserted.

Last week, the paper’s credibility and values were thrust smack-dab in the middle of the raging Red Sox soap opera when the Boston Herald and WEEI-AM fanned allegations that the Globe was doing the bidding of team CEO Larry Lucchino in denigrating GM Theo Epstein as part of a dark and symbiotic conspiracy between Sox management and Globe journalists.

It was a rough, and ugly, week in which the Globe blew a major story (announcing that Epstein had agreed to a three-year deal with the Sox), found itself under siege for its ties to the Sox, and had to cope with a torrent of venom aimed at Shaughnessy, who wrote an inflammatory column that may have played a role in queering the deal between Epstein and the Sox. The Herald, in its familiar role as the second paper with the chip on its shoulder, took every opportunity to scream "foul" and raise ethical red flags about the Globe’s conduct. And the popular sports-talk station WEEI did what it does best in any controversy. It poured gasoline on the fire.

Now that Epstein is gone, the Patriots once again have the attention of local sports fans, and the warring parties have returned to their neutral corners, it’s time to hand out the media grades.


Any way you slice it, it was a bad week for the broadsheet. The big reporting blunder — one that nearly rivals the Herald’s infamous "White Will Run" page-one headline incorrectly predicting Boston Mayor Kevin White would seek a fifth term — was an October 31 scoop co-bylined by Chris Snow and Gordon Edes, and teased on page one, reporting that Epstein had agreed to a three-year deal valued at about $1.5 million a year. The next day, the Globe’s front page read: "Epstein, toast of town in title year, leaves Sox." In baseball scorer’s parlance that’s a big "E–Morrissey Boulevard."

But what has become the single biggest lightning rod in this whole saga is Shaughnessy’s memorable October 30 column headlined, "Let’s iron out some of this dirty laundry." The first paragraph predicted, incorrectly, that a deal to retain Epstein would be announced the next day. But what was more notable was the strong pro-Lucchino, anti-Epstein tilt: "What is alarming — for the future of the franchise — is Theo’s sudden need to distance himself from those who helped him rise to his position of power," Shaughnessy wrote in a crucial paragraph. "Lucchino and Dr. Charles Steinberg are a pair of Red Sox executives who ‘discovered’ Theo when he was a student at Yale. They picked him out of thousands of wannabe interns.... And now Theo ‘bristles at the notion of Steinberg and Lucchino taking credit for his success.’ "

In an interview with the Phoenix, Shaughnessy expressed no regrets about the column, saying "everything in there is true" and asserting that when he wrote it — after talking to Epstein and Lucchino — he was "absolutely" sure a deal was going to be reached. Even so, it seems strange that such an inflammatory piece would be written at such a delicate moment. Shaughnessy has every right to write whatever he wants, but this was a helluva time for an Epstein beatdown.


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Issue Date: November 11 - 17, 2005
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